Nearly 20 years ago, the nation coalesced around a sound idea for improving schools: standards-based reform. The standards were supposed to establish what students ought to know and be able to do and, as a result, offer clear guidance to teachers, curriculum writers, textbook and assessment developers, and professional development providers. They were supposed to result in a well-aligned system that provides teachers all the resources and supports they need—at least, that’s what we were promised.
Teachers know all too well just how broken that promise is. The typical state’s standards are nowhere near strong enough to serve as the foundation for a well-aligned, coherent educational system. The AFT has been reviewing state standards for more than a decade, and our findings—that state standards are, for the most part, either much too vague or much too long (and sometimes, oddly, both)—have been confirmed by many other reviewers.
We should be outraged. As readers of American Educator know, cognitive science has established that knowledge builds on knowledge-the more you know, the faster you learn.* And so it’s imperative that standards offer carefully sequenced content from the beginning of kindergarten through the end of high school. But they don’t. And as a result, we have some serious problems: